Saturday, March 12, 2016

Late-winter pick-me-up

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Spring is definitely on the way, but here in Seattle the seasonal transition involves quite a bit of dithering on the part of the weather. Here are four things -- slightly random, but they all hang together for me somehow -- we have been enjoying while we wait out the frigid rain squalls.

1. Julia Rothman's Nature Anatomy (AmazonPowell's )was an impulse purchase, of the "I'm buying this for my kid, no really" variety. In this case though I'm happy to say my daughter actually has gotten good use out of it -- in fact she read it cover to cover as if it were a novel. (There's no narrative to it, it's basically just a series of labeled illustrations of various types of animals, habitats, and landforms, with facts delivered in short captions along the way.) A nice reminder of the gorgeous things out there waiting for us when the season turns, and the gorgeous words available to us in the meantime.

2. I've set myself a goal of reading a book a month this year, inspired by this post from Wait But Why that I mentioned in the comment section of one of my posts a while back. In the post, writer Tim Urban visualizes the number of times he is likely to do various things in the amount of his life that is left to him (assuming -- knock on wood -- a 90-year lifespan). I found the bit about books especially sobering:

"I read about five books a year, so even though it feels like I’ll read an endless number of books in the future, I actually have to choose only 300 of all the books out there to read and accept that I’ll sign off for eternity without knowing what goes on in all the rest."

Even more so because since my daughter was born over 8 years ago I have only read a handful of books. I've plowed through a fair number of New Yorker articles, sure, and quite a few blog posts (of course, it goes without saying, some lovely and thoughtful ones!). But books? Seriously, maybe one per year. (I blame time confetti.) One book per month probably seems like a laughably low bar to some of you, but better to start somewhere.

February's book was The Wolf Wilder (AmazonPowell's), a middle-grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl in late-Tsarist Russia who teaches wolves formerly kept as pets by aristocrats to be wild again, and the struggles that ensue when she and her mother run afoul of the cruel and powerful General Rakov. I recently came across a description of middle grade novels as basically poetry without the pretension -- the idea being that they often contain beautiful language and figures of speech, but you don't have to stress out about whether or not you're "getting it." The Wolf Wilder illustrates that well: "The sky was the blue of winter palaces. The snow stretched, untouched, for miles and the half-grown trees dipped like praying polar bears." You might even begin to wish that winter wouldn't end after all.

For the record, the actual middle-grader in my household also read the book, and she says she liked it, although fair warning: too many animals died for her taste. Some of these deaths occur off-page, as it were, but my kiddo is a sensitive sort; she's been known to abandon more than one book because a character said an unkind word about a cat.

3. On a different note, having exhausted my "log fire" candle, I bought a new one with the new season in mind, smelling of citrus blossoms and tropical fruits: Volcano by Capri Blue (Amazon). I have to admit that I wish it didn't smell so exactly like the inside of an Anthropologie store (mostly because I am embarrassed that I have apparently spent enough time in Anthropologie to have developed this distinct sensory association), but it's a lovely scent anyhow and a nice little sensory treat to go along with reading time.

4. Finally, a museum visit is another nice thing on a crummy weekend day.  I like the Frye Art Museum here in Seattle. It's a great place to visit with kids because it's small, the exhibits are often quirky in a way that engages kids and grownups alike, and admission and parking (in a lot directly across the street) are free, which really takes the pressure off. My daughter and I went there to see a (very abbreviated, as it turned out) exhibit of Russian paintings. I liked watching the expression on her face when I suggested that some of the paintings could be of characters from The Wolf Wilder -- half "Mom, you're so embarrassing" smirk, half delighted smile at the idea.

Leon Gaspard, "Head of a Russian boy" [...or is it Ilya?]

Ilya Repin, "Cossack girl," 1889 [...possibly Feo?] 

Though some might argue the best part of a museum visit is the cafe at the end. I don't think that's quite right, but I'm not above resorting to a little bribery....


  1. It's so nice to see the things/endeavours which are getting you through what sounds to be a rather dismal March, Sarah :) .

    I'm quite certain I've mentioned this before, but I have always loved reading books alongside my kids. The Wolf Wilder is definitely going on my list of books to read to or with my 10 year-old. As to the Nature Anatomy book --- it's always such a great feeling to bring home a book for your child and to have them REALLY enjoy it! My 10 year-old has been devouring the DK Knowledge Encyclopedia, a book I thought he might just dabble in here and there but not really "read".

    Personally, I think the goal of reading one book per month is the OPPOSITE of a laughably low bar. When we lived in Minnesota I attended the Barnes and Noble classics book club and the one-book-a-month pretty much did me in - it got to the point where I felt I was doing nothing in my evenings BUT reading. The idea of putting an actual number onto the-books-I-have-time-to-read-in-my-remaining-lifetime is indeed very sobering. For me, it's a concept that has completely heightened the need to choose well --- I don't want to waste time reading something that's less than stellar --- which is unfortunately somewhat paralyzing when it comes to actually selecting what books to read :( . (On that note, and tying in with what I said above with reading alongside kids, you simply *can't* get to age 90 and not have read Harry Potter ;) ).

    These days, my time issues are less of a time confetti problem than a "there's not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do". I think recognizing any sort of time issue has somewhat of the same effect though --- it can lead to a person possibly questioning everything that one does with their time. FWIW, I can completely empathize with your (brief and diplomatic!) thoughts on New Yorker articles and blog posts ... I've often pondered the uncomfortable fact that the time I spend on blogs (writing my own as well as writing comments on other people's blogs) is time I could be spending on other endeavours. I have somewhat reconciled myself to this by telling myself that not only am I *writing*, but that the (very few) bloggers I converse with have become very dear friends, indeed. I like to think that our discussions are actually valuable, both on a practical as well as a psychological level (social interaction with like-minded people and all...) but I have to acknowledge that this could be a bit of loneliness talking --- perhaps if I were still living in my home town or had a wide circle of "real life" friends I could get together with for coffee I wouldn't feel the need to be online :( .

    Anthropologie :) . This is the second reference to Anthropologie I've come across this week. I'm trying to put together a post on sewing and clothing (but it's currently so cringe-worthy I'm not sure it will ever see the light of day) and in doing so came across instructions for a DIY Anthropologie t-shirt. I suppose it speaks volumes that I had never before even heard of Anthropologie!! (They have lovely stuff though (I looked at their online store), and I do see there are three Toronto stores!)

    Have a wonderful Sunday, Sarah :)

    1. I so appreciate the comments you leave here (and the conversations we have on your blog), Marian, so I for one am selfishly glad that you choose to spend some of your time this way! Yes, I think that's part of what I was dancing around, that writing/reading/commenting on blogs seems less "worthy" than Great Literature somehow, but I do think they bring something valuable to my life. That said, immersing myself in longest-form writing also seems valuable, so I think it's worth trying to push back a bit against the structure of my days that has been preventing that.

      Do you know Nancy Pearl's "rule of fifty"? Might make it less paralyzing to choose what to read because you can justify moving on without guilt if a book doesn't grab you!

      I have promised that my April book will be Book 1 of Harry Potter, so never fear, I won't end up a Potterless 90-year-old.

      I hope you and your boy enjoy the Wolf Wilder if you do read it! My mom used to read books along with my younger sister (I guess when I was that age she was too busy with said younger sister to do so?) and I have to confess it always baffled me a little bit: why don't you read a book that YOU want to read, Mom?? But now I get it. I don't need to read everything along with her, but it's nice to share a book together once in a while. (The Wolf Wilder was actually one that I bought, at her crap-free book fair, because *I* wanted to read it...but my daughter ended up commandeering it while I was still in the middle of it and I was happy to share.)

      I hope you do end up publishing your sewing/clothing post. I really liked reading your thoughts on Marie Kondo so I feel certain this one would be worth waiting for (and not nearly as cringe-y as you imagine) too.

  2. Hmmm....the bit about the number of books is getting to me. But maybe in the right way. I mean, at first it was along the lines of, Aack! I'm going to die before I can read all the books! But then it was more like, Hell yeah! I hereby give myself permission to read very, very discriminately and to abandon any book at will. Because: Life's really short (and getting shorter each day). I know anything that has to do with the limited nature of living can go either of these two ways. I'm trying to be more like Maude (of Harold & fame), and choose the latter.

    And I love your description of middle grade novels. It makes me want to write one. AND, I'll be driving through Seattle next weekend (on my way to Bellingham, to see my grandma) and I'm thinking that a stop at the Frye might be just the ticket for lunch. I don't think I've ever been there. OH, and I just realized I can ask you this: If you could go to only one thrift store in Seattle, where would it be? (I'll need somewhere for a quick stop on the way home, too. I am still holding out for a proper thrifting date with you at some point; maybe this summer? Although might not be until my kids head off to college.)

    I really like these newsy kinds of posts. Maybe I should try writing some like this, instead of being so dang serious all the time...

    1. I like your Maude-like attitude about books (and see above: Nancy Pearl would approve too). Secretly, or not so secretly I guess, I want to write a middle-grade (or maybe it's YA) novel too.

      Seattle! The Frye would be a great stop for lunch, it is just a few blocks off the highway. I think you would like the "Others Who Were Here" exhibit (about the landscape and architecture of the Great Plains)that is currently there, too. Re: thrifting, I most often go to the Shoreline Goodwill (NE 145th St.), Lake City Value Village (Lake City Way), or Crown Hill Value Village (15th Ave. NW). If I had to pick one, I think I would say Crown Hill. VV has nicer stuff on average than Goodwill, and the Crown Hill location is a somewhat bigger. If you need to fuel up after thrifting, the tradition my mom and I follow is to have fries and a milkshake from Dick's Drive-In (on Holman Rd. NW). :-) I do hope we can have a proper thrifting date sometime, that would be lovely!

      And thanks for saying you like my newsy posts. I like your serious posts (still formulating my reaction to your latest), but I'd be happy to read newsiness from you too!

  3. Hmm, I wonder if it's an instinctive sense of the limited reading time remaining to me that has led me to read almost exclusively books I haven't read before since conceiving my daughter (a "What?! I'm pregnant at 40?!" baby) two and a half years ago. I have a lot of reviews on my site if you're looking for suggestions and/or "skip this one" advice!

    My son is 11, and until recently I was reading his bedtime story every night. His dad now has that job, and I'm missing the opportunity to read middle-grade novels that are new to me and share my childhood favorites!

    1. Thanks, Becca! I confess I have quite a long queue of books already but I do appreciate your reviews even though it makes my queue even longer. I wonder if my daughter would like that Henning Mankell book? His Wallander mysteries for grownups are really wonderful, although I have not read a full one -- just part of one of the novels in the original Swedish, and we've watched both TV series based on the character (the BBC version with Branagh is good but I think the Swedish version is even better).

      Bedtime story reading is definitely petering out here, which is maybe why I was especially glad to trade The Wolf Wilder back and forth -- at least we were discovering it together, even if we weren't actually reading it together.